In Concert with Nature

In honor of the late influential bassist Robert Black, musicians lined Haverford’s Nature Trail for a Network for New Music performance with deep connections to nature.

As the swell of basses mingled with rustling leaves and distant chirping birds, eager listeners wove their way through Haverford’s Nature Trail as the Network for New Music presented “A Murmur in the Trees” on April 21.

The performance was held in honor of the late Robert Black, a highly influential bassist whose wistful suggestion, “How about 24 basses in a grove of trees?” helped inspire the composition. In addition to honoring Black, a virtuoso who collaborated with the likes of Philip Glass and John Cage, “A Murmur in the Trees” has been rooted in the intertwinement of music and nature since creation.

Composer Eve Beglarian wrote the 30-minute piece after she found a chunk of birch bark and used the wood’s natural lines and etchings in place of traditional sheet music. Working alongside the environment, this “graphic notation” style of composition makes for ambient, pictorial music intended to be experienced rather than simply heard.

“The basses are trees, and the basses are in conversation with the trees,” Belgarian explains.

Each of the 24 bassists play a unique role in the piece, which is made possible through the use of earpiece-channeled guide tracks that provide cues to the musicians. The parts can be performed by a variety of skill levels, allowing budding musicians to play alongside seasoned professionals. Even an elementary school student was present, bow in hand.

“It gives community members the opportunity to come together for something they normally wouldn’t,” says Rachel Diblasio, who volunteered at the event. “It’s a very formative experience for everyone involved.”

Because it’s impossible to hear every bass play simultaneously, each individual’s listening experience is dependent on their chosen path. The deeply personal nature of “A Murmur in the Trees” is perhaps best summarized by the concluding line of the concert’s namesake, a poem by Emily Dickinson, which reads:

“So go your Way — and I’ll go Mine —
No fear you’ll miss the road”

Photos by Jessica Korgen ’24